Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.
Showing posts with label Have a Break Have a Snack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Have a Break Have a Snack. Show all posts

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Apples & Thyme: The First Four Years of My Life

Where have I been missing for so long? Happily busy as commented by a new reader of mine? Yea, I would say so. Currently my tasks are getting heavier, where I see myself working later and later but there is one other thing that is making me go crazy, preparing to be a bridesmaid and helping out in my sister’s wedding! Oh boy, now I know that planning for wedding needs so much of an attention. Every little details counts for big things.

Anyway, enough bout me as I am here to tell you a story about an amazing woman. I mentioned about my Lai Ma in my Chinese New Year great feast at her home. I practically spend the first 4 years of my life at her humble home, surrounded with lots of love from her, her husband and her children. There were also chaos and mischief as I had my dear god sister U and her brother as partners in crime.

The story of how Lai Ma became my nanny started like this. My first nanny was not her, but another lady somewhere in Aulong (a suburb of Taiping) and at that time I was about few months old. My mum had to send me to a nanny because she was working and could not take care of me full time. So one fine day, my Pho Pho(grandma) decided to give me a visit, and took a cab to Aulong. She found me at the hall, crying pitifully, desperate for a nappy change and yet with no one attending to me. As she reminisced to me, she found the nanny happily cooking in the kitchen seemingly unaware of my predicament. That was enough for Pho Pho where she called up my mum immediately, and with a recommendation from a distant relative, my mum drove right over after work, pick me up and drove me straight to my Lai Ma’s house. That was how Lai Pa described, where I came in my mum’s car late in the evening, in need of love and attention right into their home that was never deprived of those. And so begin my years of growing up there.

I would say it had been the shaping years of my life, trust me we children do absorb everything like sponge during the first 5 years of our lives from family and people surrounding us. So environment counts and lucky for me, it was a great one. After that it is the school, the teacher and then to friends. So if you had just turned into a mum or are expecting, remember this, the next 5 years is the time you take to shape your child. Anyway, not to divert, so my Lai Ma, her husband and her three children (all in their teens then) had shaped me in many ways. When I finally move back permanently with my family, I somehow felt I was different, albeit a bit on the stubborn and naughtier side due to fact that I was exposed to peers other than your own siblings, so I was somehow the stronger and mischievous one in school, but that would be another story.

Quite a pity though as when I was young, I was a rascal who refused to eat. All I want to do was play, play and just play. So when it comes to meal time, it was either wham bam thank you ma’am and then rush off to continue whatever game that we were in, or it would be a long torturous road of trying to cheat me into finishing my meal. This was how un-tham jiak I was when I was young. Maybe I did not know how to appreciate food then, which I make up real well now, I hope. I even shied away from Malaysia’s king of fruit, the durian when I was young and no amounts of coaxing or brain-washing can make me eat it. This was another real pity thing as my Lai Pa goes to an estate all the time, to hunt wild boars (yes, hunting with big long guns that you would only see in the movies) and also harvest many wonderful fresh local fruits, and one that always came back fresh from falling off the tree is the durian.

So now I am all grown up, appreciating food in its myriad of tastes, smells and textures, that I see how much I have missed then, oh and yea, I do eat durian now and enjoy it very much. Funny how much one’s taste can change so much as they grew up. My Lai Ma’s cooking was superb, sadly that I realized this so much later, but still not too late fortunately. I also learnt that she was an excellent baker only after I had left Taiping for studies, where her husband and children had once bought her a huge mixer (maybe it was smallest at that time), that lasted her for more than 20 years until now, where in occasions I got to use to bake a few cakes with her and even made my first virgin cheesecake at her place, her acclaimed best recipe from those who had tried. It was a really cool stand mixer, like a KitchenAid of that time, where I believed I would have dream and wish for it then like how I wish for KitchenAid now.

From the recent Chinese New Year (the most celebrated occasion for the Chinese every year is still vividly fresh in my mind), I had managed to learn one of her ‘secret’ recipe, the young papaya pickle. It is thinly sliced young papaya soaked in Chinese rice vinegar, sugar and sliced chillies, in glass containers, which can last for ages but it never does, not in my household anyway. I was lucky last year when once during a visit to her house, she had just made a big batch, soaking in few glass containers of various sorts such as jam jar, taucu jar (her favourite) and other sauces jar, just like how we Chinese like to keep these containers/bottles/boxes for ‘just in case’s, which this time, rarely I might say, was really put to good use. She even reminded me to bring back the container the next time I come back so that it can be reuse for more pickled papayas! So, this year when I visit her again, I casually mentioned that I had brought back the containers for her (proudly as I was really famous for forgetfulness, especially in her household of really keen and responsible people), and she was indeed surprised and happy. Then I also casually mentioned that I simply looove those pickled papayas, where I polished off in just a week and had been yearning for more since then. She perk up immediately to know I enjoy it so much and offered immediatly “it is so very easy to make, let me make a batch for you to bring back tomorrow!” I was thrilled yet worried as my plan was to go back with my cousin was right after breakfast, which she waved off as no problem as she said it can be done in a jiffy.

Come the next day, my mum fetched me to Lai Ma’s house early in the morning before meeting my cousin for breakfast to pick up my precious pickled papayas. My mum was also very intrigued and want to give it a try, which later I passed one jar to her (later claimed by her to be excellent) and took two jar back home to PJ. Yes, my dear Lai Ma had made a huge batch for me, where she had skipped her daily morning walk that day just to get to the market early to buy papaya, come back and then slice and soak them just in time for me to pick up before I leave. I felt so loved, people say food is the way to a man’s heart, for me that is the way to a child’s heart, yes I am still very much a child to her, for me at least, and for all time to come I’m sure.

Young Papaya Pickle

When I asked my Lai Ma how do I know how to pick an unripe papaya that is just right for this pickle, my Lai Pa was right there listening, and as I said that he was a wise food enthusiast too, he told me straight away “when you just see a tiny hint/streak of yellow on a green papaya, then that papaya is just right for pickling”. See, I told you my Lai Pa was a wise food enthusiast (and also in many other areas of life, I’m compelled to add), he gave me such an easy and fool-proof method to my pickling journey! The recipe below is more of an estimation as it really depends how much papaya slices you can get from your papaya, how strong your rice vinegar is, and how sweet and spicy you want it to be, so follow it as a guideline and then taste as you go on.

Green with a hint/streak of yellow papaya (sliced thinly)
Chinese Rice vinegar
Red chillies (sliced in inches)

Put the sliced papaya into a jar (from your stashed of ‘just in case’ glass containers)
Pour in rice vinegar to 3 quarter full (do not add to full as the papaya will produce more water as it pickle)
Put in sugar to taste, stir in each addition and continue tasting to just right
Throw in few slices of chillies (as many as you like, but for mine I saw bout 1-2 chilly for a jar)
From time to time, give it a turn around (i.e. spoon bottom to top and vice versa so that all the papayas could get to soak), with a really clean dry spoon.
After a while all the papaya will be happily soaking in rice vinegar and its own juices, so then onwards you can keep as long as you want, just remember to take out with clean spoon every time. (Psst, sometimes I dip in with my fingers when I could not resist but no worries, mine do not need to be stored for long anyway).

P/S: I am submitting this entry to Apples & Thymes to celebrate my Lai Ma, just like a mother to me and a mother to her lovely children, and how she play a big part in my life and my love for food.

Update: The lovely round-up of Apples & Thyme can be found at Mele Cotte.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Popcorn Endeavour

I have been a fan of popcorn since the day Cineplex conquered Malaysia. Cineplex is actually cinema, a movie theatre in a shopping complex. This Cineplex fever had hit Malaysia about 8 years ago ( if I’m not mistaken) and people just love the idea for a one stop entertainment, where they will go there to eat, window shopping or do some buying and then go for a movie.

We used to have cinema in Malaysia, where a particular huge building with car parks itself is cater just for movie watching. At that time, cinema is a huge hit. Back in Taiping, Lido is one of the most famous cinemas, where during peak times like Chinese New Year; the tickets had to be booked a week ahead to get a seat for those usual 'Jackie Chan-good prevails-action kicking' kind of movie. I for one is lucky as my Lai Ma’s (nanny) husband Lai Pa, is the manager of the Lido cinema, which means easy booking for me. At times, during non peak season, I even have the privilege to watch a movie free; sometimes I would slip in a friend or two. After that, pirated VCDs invaded Malaysia and people no longer want to spend the money to watch in cinema when the price of one admission can get a CD for viewing by the whole family. Besides, Astro (our local cable television) came along and had also rendered many to their sofas. Then Cineplex became a trend and thus many cinemas close down one by one, and by 1999, Lido shut down too. I was particularly sad as I have many fond memories there, not just in the theatre but times I spend hanging out at the office with my Lai Pa.

Although I would love to have popcorn every time I go to a movie but sometimes, it is just too costly for me. After that I read about in blogs where people make their own popcorn. So one day, while J and I are out groceries shopping in the shopping mall (yes, shamefully that is where I get my food, just do not have the strength to wake up in the morning for a walk in the market), I just casually mentioned about popcorn. Now, I actually do not know how raw corn would look like and commented to J on how great if I know how to make own popcorn, as in not those costly pre-packed ready to pop in foil kind. J had a fit of laughter and was pretty amused. He was smug too as finally, there was once, he know something about food more than me. This was not the usual case where usually, during groceries shopping, he likes to enquire endlessly about food things from really negligible things to some I myself could not answer. Sometimes, I suspect he does all this just out to amuse himself while I do the boring “si lai” (housewife) shopping. Anyway, as I was saying, J pointed out to me what the raw corn was, of course after he gets a good laugh at me and a reluctant credit from me, as he had in fact seen his mum made popcorn before with the microwave. I was delighted in my new find - maize.

Well, J might have seen his mum did it before; typically he was not sure how exactly was it done. At that time, I do not have a microwave yet and decided to do it over the stove. It did pop but only half of it, with the other half burnt and stuck to the bottom of my saucepan. I have a similar problem, but with 70% success rate at second try. Then finally, I chuck my maize away in the corner of the cupboard. Then recently, I got my microwave! Hurray! So J and I put it in a container, with a knob of butter and finally it did came out nice, but sadly, still with about 15% non-pop at the bottom while also, unfortunately, slightly disfigured my container. I nearly gave up on my popcorn adventure but no, yesterday night, I just had the urge to finally make it right. I decided to use my trusty non-stick pan this time and finally had a 100% success rate! I was ecstatic.

Do try out making your own popcorn as, my huge bowl of popcorn, which cost me around RM1-2 compared to the popcorn sold in the cinema at RM6++ for maybe less the amount. You do the math. Besides, I’m pretty sure my popcorns are much healthier too, with no butter or preservatives plus more delicious with extra own spices. Now I am thinking of sneaking these lovelies into the cinema; lets all be converted together! But first I got to find a big hand bag.

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Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

2 handful (1/3 cup) popcorn
1 tsp oil

Drop oil on pan and use a tissue to spread it all over, coating the pan.
Heat it till hot.
Add in popcorn and cover. It would helped to use a glass cover so that you can watch the corn popping, not only for pleasure, but to know how to handle it.
While it heats up, do some other stuff, watch TV, surf the net, clean the kitchen (as if) or just sit down and dream.
It’ll be quite sometime till the first “pop” is heard.
From here, you have to watch over it.
Shake the pan once a while. This is to avoid some un-pop corn and also burnt ones.
After some fascinating ooh ahh seeing the corn popping and also some shakings, the popping stops. Remove from heat.

The coating:
4 tbsp of brown sugar
2-3 tsp of cinnamon

Heat brown sugar and cinnamon over a saucepan.
Stir it occasionally to avoid burning.
The brown sugar would soon sweat and then melt into a lovely caramel.
From here take note not to over cook it or you’ll get black and bitter stuff.

Put in the popcorn by batches on the caramel and coat it roughly. You might not be able to coat all but just the better else it would be too sweet. You’ll then get huge chunks of popcorns sticking together from the caramel. Yum!

Now I'm thinking of all the other spices or maybe coffee powder to use instead of cinnamon. Imagine all the possibilities! More adventures for me!

Makes one huge bowl of finger sticking and licking popcorns

Monday, November 28, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging – Curry Leaves

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This is my first time participating in the weekend herb blogging, and I could not find a better herb to blog about than curry leaves! This is because it is one of the herbs that I used freshly in variety of cooking, such as my Chicken Korma. These leaves are also readily available in Malaysia.

Curry leaves are featured mainly in Indian cuisines that are ubiquitous in Malaysia as the Indians are one of the three main ethnic groups in my multi-racial country. I have always been a lover of Indian cuisines, and had taken note of this unique and strong smelling herb. This special herb emits a special aroma which I believe, is hard to substitute with any other herbs. If one leaves it out in a recipe, the taste would not be quite right.

Once, our local KFC even had a version of Curry Fried Chicken, where curry leaves are mixed into the batter and then deep fried with the chicken. It was certainly special where the leaves are still clearly shown on the fried chicken, but now it is off the menu as somehow, Malaysians love the long-time hot and spicy version much better.

So in order to introduce this herb further, I had made vadai with it. Vadai is a type of fried gram that we in Malaysia like to snack on. It is extremely tasty with lots of flavours from the spices, a little spicy from the chillies and of course, the curry leaves. In this version that I modified from a cooking forum, KC, it includes masala in it. If masala powder is not available to you, you can make it yourself from a recipe here or any other recipes out there.

Eat it out of your hands with a good lime-chilly sauce and I guaranteed it finger licking good!

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Masala Vadai

During shaping, I had experience difficulties in holding them together because it was too wet. I supposed it is because I did not drain the soaked dhal grams properly enough, therefore I had added a bit more flour. After that I had chilled it in the fridge while I shaped the rest of the vadais and while I heat up the oil. It did help to hold the form a little.

The first batch of my vadais had gone to the trash because I had flipped it too early before it was thoroughly fried, therefore everything split. I also made a mistake by taking it out too fast, resulting in pieces of under-fried vadais. Therefore, I had timed and found that the best is to first let it fried for at least bout 5 minutes before flipping it over and then fried it for another 3 minutes to achieve the brown outlook with crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside texture. Besides, I found that one should be gentle while lowering the vadai into the oil, using a spoon and your fingers to sandwich the vadai while transferring would help.

1 cup Dhal Gram (grind until fine)
3/4 cup Dhal Gram
2 green chilies (remove seeds, chopped finely)
1 medium onions (chopped finely)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Masala powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped curry leaves
6 tbsp plain flour

Soak both ground and whole dhal gram in separate bowls for 5 hours.
Drain both bowls of dhal gram and mixed into a large mixing bowl.
Add the rest of ingredients.

Mixed together evenly.
Wet your hands and shape them into patties.
Deep fry in hot wok of oil till golden brown (about 5 minutes on one side then turn and fry for about 3 more minutes)

Makes about 10-12 vadais

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